In all likelihood, you’ve never heard of Mullah Baradar. The only Taliban leader most people know is Mullah Mohammed Omar, the unworldly, one-eyed village preacher who held the grand title amir-ul-momineen—”leader of the faithful”—when he ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Omar remains a high-value target, with a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. But he hasn’t been seen in at least three years, even by his most loyal followers, and rarely issues direct orders anymore. In his place, the adversary that American forces are squaring off against in Afghanistan—the man ultimately responsible for the spike in casualties that has made July the deadliest month for Coalition soldiers since the war began in 2001—is Baradar. A cunning, little-known figure, he may be more dangerous than Omar ever was.
In more than two dozen interviews for this profile, past and present members of the Afghan insurgency portrayed Baradar as no mere stand-in for the reclusive Omar. They say Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury—hundreds of millions of dollars in -narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province who met Baradar this March in Quetta for the fourth time. “Baradar has the makings of a brilliant commander,” says Prof. Thomas Johnson, a longtime expert on Afghanistan and an adviser to Coalition forces. “He’s able, charismatic, and knows the land and the people so much better than we can hope to do. He could prove a formidable foe.” [continued…]
The U.S. military is mulling a plan to build a private army to protect bases throughout Afghanistan. On July 10, the Army issued a request for information from companies interested in bidding on an Afghanistan-wide security contract. While a formal solicitation has not been launched, the idea would be to provide security services for approximately 50 or more forward operating bases or command outposts throughout Afghanistan.
Use of private security contractors to protect bases is not new: In Iraq, the U.S. military hired guards to provide fixed-site security at installations throughout the country. Old joke from Iraq: Q: What’s the password to get into the dining facility? A: Jambo, rafiki! (”Hello, friend!” in Swahili — lots of Ugandans were employed as private guards in Iraq.)
As we’ve reported before, Afghanistan has also seen a surge in demand for private security contractors. Back in November, the government issued a solicitation for armed guards to protect installations in southern Afghanistan. In January, U.K. security firm Aegis won a contract to run Afghanistan’s “armed contractor oversight directorate,” which is responsible for keeping tabs on armed contractors hired by the U.S. military, much like the Reconstruction Operations Center in Iraq. Companies like Blackwater Xe have long provided contracted air services. [continued…]